It’s not all pantos and Christmas fare just yet, though my own week actually starts by reviewing one at Hackney Empire and then continues with the Union’s seasonal UK premiere for Charles Busch’s Times Square Angel – but I’m also looking forward this week to fulfilling my reviewing duties for Sondheim and Weidman’s Assassins at the Menier Chocolate Factory.
I’m also paying a visit to Leicester’s Curve for Paul Kerryon’s final production at the helm of the theatre he has run for the last 23 years when he revives The Sound of Music. Those aren’t, of course, the only shows I’ll be seeing over the next seven days, but those are the ones you’ll be able to read my reviews for on The Stage website. Meanwhile The Stage will also fly the flag for regional reviews  as ever at this time of year by professionally reviewing more shows around the country than any other national publication.
Mother Goose – Hackney Empire, London
There’s nothing like a panto dame, as Oscar Hammerstein II might have said if he’d thought of it, and there’s nothing, in London at least, quite like Clive Rowe’s panto dame at Hackney Empire. Reprising a role that he was Olivier nominated for in 2009, he returns there to star in Mother Goose, appearing alongside another Hackney favourite, Sharon D Clarke. It also reunites director Susie McKenna and musical director Steven Edis for their 16th Hackney pantomime together. One of the wonderful things about pantomime is often the sense of continuity that it engenders, and this tradition is nobly being upheld at Hackney.
Times Square Angel – Union Theatre, London
Another annual holiday theatrical tradition, at least in New York, is Charles Busch’s one-night only revival of his 1985 play Times Square Angel at Off-Broadway’s Theatre for a New City. Busch was in London recently to make his cabaret debut at Crazy Coqs, and interviewing him before that happened , he told me that the show a cross between A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life. Sarah Jessica Parker never misses it, apparently, and I’m not planning to miss its Union Theatre debut either.
The Menier Chocolate Factory’s Christmas musical has become as traditional a part of that theatre’s programming as panto is at Hackney or Times Square Angel is in New York, but this year’s entry sees a new, all-star production of Sondheim and John Weidman’s Assassins, an alternately gritty and witty survey of those who’ve made attempts on the lives of American presidents (and some of who’ve succeeded), opening on December 1.
The show has a special place in Menier artistic director David Babani’s life: he was still a student at Bristol University when, in 1997, he made his professional producing career debut by putting it on at London’s New End Theatre. Now he has director of the moment Jamie Lloyd directing a cast that includes Broadway’s Aaron Tveit, Jamie Parker, Catherine Tate, Andy Nyman, Mike McShane, Carly Bawden, Simon Lipkin and Stewart Parker.
Hope – Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, Royal Court, London
There are also some interesting-sounding new plays around town. At the Royal Court’s Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, Jack Thorne returns with Hope, his first play there since Let the Right One In that subsequently transferred to the West End, again directed by John Tiffany, opening December 2.
Described as a scathing fable that attacks the squeeze on local government, examines our disillusionment with the current political parties and asks where we go from here, it has a cast that includes Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Stella Gonet and Paul Higgins.
3 Winters – Lyttelton, National Theatre, London
At the National’s Lyttelton, Howard Davies directs London-based, Croatian-born playwright Tena Stivicic play 3 Winters, set in Croatia between 1945 and 2011 with a cast that includes James Laurenson, Josie Walker, Jodie McNee and Susan Engel, opening on December 3.
Visitors – Bush Theatre, London
At the Bush, Barney Norris’ Visitors – which premiered at the Arcola in the summer – gets another outing, with Linda Bassett and Robin Soans once again starring, opening December 2. I saw it at the Arcola and loved this tender, heartbreaking story about a couple facing the final ending together.
An Ideal Husband – Chichester Festival Theatre
Regionally, Chichester’s extended summer season finally ends with Rachel Kavanaugh’s revival of Wilde’s An Ideal Husband (opening on November 27) with an all-star cast led by Patricia Routledge, Edward Fox and Robert Bathurst, and also including Jamie Glover who recently also directed the double bill of Miss Julie and Black Comedy at Chichester’s Minerva. Could this be lining up for a fast West End transfer? Maybe – if a theatre is available, that is.
Swallows and Amazons – Bristol Old Vic
Bristol Old Vic revives its musical adaptation of Swallows and Amazons that previously transferred to the West End, created by Helen Edmundson, Neil Hannon and Tom Morris (opening on December 2). Neil Hannon is a major pop songwriter and I hope his appetite for musical theatre has been whetted by this so he continues to do more musicals in the future.
The Sound of Music – Leicester Curve
At Leicester’s Curve, Paul Kerryson signs off after 23 years at the helm of the venue to direct their Christmas musical, The Sound of Music (opening on December 3) with a cast that includes the wonderful Laura Pitt-Pulford as Maria.
White Christmas – West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds
On December 2, Kerryson’s successor at Leicester, Nikolai Foster, opens a new production of White Christmas at West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds in an entirely different staging to the commercial offering now on at London’s Dominion. I’m reviewing The Sound of Music but also want to catch White Christmas in Leeds, as the superb cast includes one of my favourite of all West End singers, Emma Williams, plus the always reliable Lucy Williamson, Melanie La Barrie and Oliver Tompsett.